Sermon From 0xnard

Holy Trinity Church in 0xnard is under persecution by R0C0R-MP [law suits] because they would not submit to the R0C0R+MP union. This sermon is a fruit of their sufferings. -jh

Saint Germanos I,
Patriarch of Constantinople

We now enter more fully into the reign of the Iconoclasts, the Icon-breakers or enemies of Sacred Iconography. That period stretched from 730 to 787 (that is, fifty-seven years) and from 814 to 842 (that is, twenty-eight years): a total of eighty-five years (with a 27 year Iconodule interval between the two Iconoclastic periods). The controversy about Holy Icons thus lasted for one hundred twelve years. That terrible time, however, produced many great Saints and Fathers, as periods of adversity always have done. Four heroic and saintly Patriarchs of Constantinople stand out during this period. We will consider each of these four Holy Fathers, the first of whom is Saint Germanos.

Saint Germanos, Patriarch of Constantinople, was born at the Imperial Capital sometime in the middle of the seventh century, the son of a wealthy patrician named Justinian. Early in his life the Saint decided to devote himself to the Church and so immersed himself in the study of theology and Holy Scripture. He was later ordained to serve as a clergyman at the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia where he “was renown for his modesty, his knowledge, his professionalism, his ability, and foremost for his fear of God.”[1]

Saint Germanos attended, and contributed significantly to, the Synod in Trullo (or Quinisext Synod, as it is also known) of 692[2]. In 705, he was elected Bishop and Metropolitan of Kyzikos, a town in Asia Minor on the coast of the Sea of Marmara. There, he opposed the efforts of the usurper-Emperor Philippikos to impose the heresy of Monothelitism, for which he was exiled from his See. Upon the fall of Philippikos in 713, the Saint returned to Kyzikos and shortly thereafter, in 715, during the brief reign of Emperor Anastasios II, was elected to the Patriarchal Throne of Saint Andrew in Constantinople. Ecclesiastical historians commend him for his many virtues and most particularly for his remarkable gift of prophecy. “On the day of the Baptism of Emperor Leo III’s son, Constantine [Kopronymos],” the Saint “prophesied that the latter [Kopronymos] would become a formidable enemy of the Church….”[3] He prophesied as well that one of his Priests, Anastasios, “would usurp his throne and become one of the promoters of heresy”[4] He was accurate in both prophecies: Kopronymos was destined to become the most bitter and violent of persecutors against the Orthodox and Anastasios would serve as the first of the Iconoclast Patriarchs of Constantinople[5].

In 717 Leo III the Isaurian mounted the Imperial Throne after a military revolt that overthrew the ineffective Theodosios III, who abdicated and became a Monk. Though successful as a military commander, Leo convinced himself that the veneration of Icons, although a part of the Church’s Tradition from its earliest years, was nevertheless a violation of the Old Testament prohibition against idolatry. This was, needless to say, sheer folly on the Emperor’s part and error on a grand scale.

When informed of the Emperor’s decision to forbid the veneration of Icons, Saint Germanos challenged the monarch to his face, explaining to him that at the Incarnation, the Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became man and assumed fully the nature of man “in order to renew in us the image of God, which had been tarnished by sin.”[6] Since He truly became man, since He “was made flesh and dwelt amongst us,”[7] it was proper to portray Him in Icons. To attack Icons was, therefore, tantamount to attacking and denying the doctrine of the Incarnation itself.

Furthermore, the Holy Father explained to Leo that Church Tradition, doctrine, and teaching, and the governance of the Church, were matters for the Hierarchy alone to determine, and not for laymen to decide. The Emperor was unmoved. Ignoring the Saint’s direction, he convened a council of political officials to meet and decide the matter of the veneration of Icons. These laymen, cognizant of, and obedient to, the Emperor’s wishes, ruled in favor of outlawing Sacred Iconography. Saint Germanos, when asked to assent to the rulings of the illicit council, defiantly told Leo that only an Oecumenical Synod might pass judgment on a matter of Church Tradition so profound as that of Holy Icons and that, consequently, he refused to have any dealing with those who would dare to violate that Holy Tradition. He then resigned as Patriarch and retired to his family estate. There, in complete seclusion, he wrote extensively against the Iconoclastic heresy.

Saint Germanos reposed around the year 742 and is commemorated on May 12th. After the Triumph of Orthodoxy, his relics were brought to Constantinople and interred in the Church of the Holy Apostles. According to The Synaxarion, the relics were stolen during the Fourth Crusade, when the Frankish invaders sacked Constantinople. They now rest in a Church in the small town of Bort-lès-Orgues in the Massif Central region of France.

During the Holy Father’s battle with the Emperor Leo, he wrote of the sources of authority in matters of Church dogma, describing the Church as “prefigured in the patriarchs, foretold by the prophets, founded in the apostles, adorned by the hierarchs, and fulfilled in the martyrs.”[8] This statement is significant since, as author and scholar Father George Peter Bithos writes, nowhere in the Saint’s “catalogue of the traditional fount of authority within the Church” is there any mention of the Emperor having any function or responsibility.[9] Neither an Emperor nor any other secular ruler possesses authority in questions pertaining to Church teaching. Therefore, in his activities related to the veneration of Icons, Leo III was clearly overstepping his proper role.

Upon the elevation of Orthodox Christianity to the official religion of the Empire during the reign of Saint Theodosios the Great, the theory of “symphony” or “harmony” was developed, in which it was affirmed that both Church and state have their legitimate realms: the realm of the Church, or sacerdotium, is spiritual, while that of the state, or imperium, is temporal. Properly, the two realms work together in cooperation, in “symphony,” and yet they are distinct in their functions.

We see this concept encapsulated in the Preamble to the Edict of April 17, 535 of Saint Justinian I, in which the Emperor states: “The greatest gifts which God in His heavenly clemency bestows upon men are the priesthood and the Imperial authority. The former ministers to Divine things, the later presides and watches over human affairs; both proceed from one and the same source and together they are the ornaments of human life.” He ends by saying that “if the priesthood is in all matters free from vice and filled with faith in God, and if the Imperial authority with justice and efficiency sets in order the commonwealth committed to its charge, there shall be an ideal harmony to provide whatever is useful for the human race.”[10]

In spiritual matters, most especially those involving the fundamentals of the Church’s dogmatic teachings, a layman, even if he is a monarch, is without authority or jurisdiction and, as a consequence, in its own realm the Church must be free from any interference by the state. Conversely, so long as the Emperor obeys the Law of God and respects the independence of the Church, Hierarchs and other clergy do not presume to interfere in the decisions of government. Saint Ambrose of Milan reminded Saint Theodosios of that in a letter he wrote to the Emperor: “It is not worthy of the emperor to deny the freedom of speech, or of a bishop not to say what he thinks. Nothing makes you emperors so beloved as your regard for the freedom even of those who owe you military obedience. For this is the difference between the good and the bad princes, that the good love liberty while the bad love servitude. Nothing is to the priest so dangerous before God and so ignominious before men as not to say freely what he thinks.”[11] Obviously, the heretic Leo did violate the independence of the Church in spiritual matters, and did interfere with the freedom of the Church to speak and act as She saw fit. And while Saint Germanos was a heroic struggler for Truth and for the independence of the Church, his immediate successor, Anastasios, surrendered the Church to the secular ruler and remained a supinely submissive instrument of the bizarre and blatantly heretical whims of the Emperor Leo.

We have no all-powerful Emperors in our modern era, none with the power to attempt to force the Church into a compromise of her Divine legacy and mission, although we do have other forms of government that claim total power. The notion of a “symphony” between Church and state perished, at least for the time being, with the death of Saint Nicholas, the Tsar-Martyr nearly a century ago. Instead, today, we have secular governments that advocate the “separation of Church and state,” which in practice, more often than not, has become “the separation of God and state.” And we find the most extreme example of that kind of separation in the Soviet Union. There, the state was not only separated from God, it promptly took upon itself the task of obliterating any consciousness of God and exterminating those who believed in God, a task that led to the greatest mass murder in history, truly the Holocaust of Holocausts.

That the Bolsheviks were enemies of God was not something that gradually developed over time. On the contrary, they made their goal shockingly and bloodily clear from the very beginning. When they confronted the Holy Patriarch Saint Tikhon with demands that he and the Church support the Bolshevik state without qualification, he refused, since he was convinced “that the boundary of the ‘political’ demands of the Soviet power lay beyond the bounds of faithfulness to Christ and the Church.”[12] In that refusal Saint Tikhon followed in the steps of Saint Germanos of Constantinople and for that refusal Saint Tikhon paid with his life.

In contrast, we have the example of Metropolitan Sergius of Nizhni-Novgorod, who, while Locum Tenens of the Russian Patriarchate after the death of Saint Tikhon, imitated the timidity and treachery of Saint Germanos’ successor, Anastasios. Metropolitan Sergius issued his infamous declaration of July 16, 1927 (o.s.) in which he asserted that the joys of the Bolshevik state were the joys of the Russian Orthodox Church, while the sorrows of the Godless Ones were the sorrows of the Church. In other words, the Metropolitan gave, in the name of the Church, his blanket approval to the aims of Bolshevism.

It is said that in doing what he did Metropolitan Sergius “saved the Church,” a preposterous and outrageous claim that is an insult to the memory of Patriarch Saint Tikhon and all of the New Martyrs of the Communist Yoke, and equally an insult to the memory of all of the Holy Martyrs of Orthodox Christianity. Metropolitan Sergius did not “save the Church” he “saved nothing but his own skin,”[13] to quote the words of Russian Orthodox writer and philosopher, Boris Tantalov.

Encouraged by the submission of Metropolitan Sergius, the Bolsheviks increased their persecution against those who opposed the Metropolitan’s betrayal and even against clergy who acquiesced in that betrayal. Thousand upon thousands of Orthodox clergy and monastics were martyred and thousands more consigned to labor camps, where they perished from maltreatment. And that vicious persecution continued right up until the German invasion of 1941, when it became clear to Stalin that to win the loyalties of the Russian people to fight the invader, it would be necessary to allow the Church a tiny bit of freedom—a temporary, tactical change in Soviet policy that was reversed by Nikita Khrushchev in 1959. Metropolitan Sergius did not “save the Church;” the Savior of the Church and of Orthodox Christians is Christ God.

Thanks to God’s Grace, the Bolsheviks never, even at their worst, had the power completely to destroy the Church. The pagan Romans could not do that in the early centuries of Christianity, and neither could the Bolsheviks do it in the twentieth century. What Metropolitan Sergius did accomplish was to make that part of the Russian Church under his control an official mouthpiece of the Bolshevik murder machine and an apparatus for the dissemination of lies, for example that there was no persecution of Christians in the USSR, a lie which it upheld without respite from 1927 through the end of the Soviet era. The Sergianist part of the Church supported Soviet foreign and domestic policies to the hilt. And, despite pretences to the contrary, the Sergianist Hierarchs and clergy were never at liberty to speak their minds or to act freely. Their purpose was to serve as grovelling creatures of an officially atheistic regime, a purpose that most of them carried out with such unswerving devotion that they received the plaudits of their masters. Saint Ambrose of Milan, who instructed Emperor Saint Theodosios about the freedom of speech necessary for a spiritually healthy Church, would have been appalled!

So we see that history often repeats itself. The courage of Saint Tikhon of Moscow is a reflection of the courage of Saint Germanos of Constantinople and of all other heroes of Truth and of the Faith down through the ages, just as the spiritual poverty and duplicity of Sergianism is a reflection of the spiritual poverty and duplicity of the despicable heretics of old.

We at this parish, and those in other traditionalist Orthodox parishes, have taken a stand for Truth, alongside Saint Germanos and Saint Tikhon and numberless others. We reject Sergianism and we reject any compromise of the Faith, regardless of the banners under which such compromise is flaunted: modernism, renovationism, ecumenism, new calendarism, or whatever. Therefore, let each of us resolve to continue to stand side by side with the Saints and to reject the worldly enticements of the weak and of the faithless.

Fr. James Thornton

footnotes: http://www.holytrinityoxnard.org/bin/Sermons/0D82153A-D1AA-4555-BD04-59C48725FDFF.html

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